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Underdogs Ultimate Challenge

We take The Win In College K20

Castle Combe Hot Hatch Rounds 3 and 4

A change of pace on the lead up to this event in compared to the frantic nature of pre-season finishing and testing. The College had very little to change after the first race meeting so proceeded to take further weight out of the car. The team saved another 30KG’s by taking more weight of exterior panels. The importance of this car rental deal is that if damaged the car is as cheap as possible to fix which is why we not throwing upgrades at it every time we go out. A slow drive round the paddock the day before the races and we were good to go….or so we thought.

With the forecast to be dry, qualifying loomed and we were all looking forward to picking up the pace fast on a clean track after mixed conditions last time out. Another large field of around 30 cars left the pitlane but as soon as I got on track I knew we had a problem, no power. Foot to the floor and it was just bogging with no sniff of VTEC. Straight back to pits for a quick check over at which point I decided to complete one full lap so at least we could qualify for the races.  The crew got to work instantly and quickly found a partially blocked fuel filter as result of a fuel pressure check on the ECU, a spare one was fitted and all was well for the little Civic again. This did mean however, we were to start from the very back of the grid for both races and it would be a mighty challenge for us to get anywhere near the front or our class competitors.

As our call to pitlane was nearing, despite the ever-reliable weather forecast, the heavens opened and hot hatch teams all over the paddock jumped into action for tyre changes, some having fewer helping hands had no time to change and were forced to race on semi slicks. The EF was jacked in the air and students had Rainsports on in minutes whilst I got my overalls on and saddled up in the car. It was not long before we were gridded up but the were issues with timing system and we ended up sat on the grid for around 30 minutes as the downpour continued to increase, windscreens started to mist up despite blowers being fitted, it was clear visibility was going to be an issues at the back of a now 29 car grid.

Two green flag laps followed to ease us into conditions but then the oddest thing happened, apparently, we were forced into a safety car start without being informed, the car had not backed anyone up to close the group up for said start so as the back of the grid crossed the start/finish line the front of the grid was already a minute down the road! I had little hope at this point of any decent result with all odds stacked against us. I am not sure I have driven Castle Combe when it’s been that wet and I have done a lot of driving at the track over the years. Even with fresh tread Rainsports the car was lifting on water in several places each lap even with other cars doing their part to clear the track of standing water. So I put my head down anyway and firstly focused on trying to find that knife edge point at which the Honda is as fast as I can make it in the wet bit at the same time not dying. There was only twice where I felt I had pushed a bit far over the limit coming out of the 2nd chicanes, out of the apex under power and we were just spinning up as it pushed the car wide onto the rumble strip. And a couple of times where I got a bit close under braking with other cars where we had considerably more pace.

I am not sure what sort of handling setup witchcraft Ethan at the college has learnt working with various race teams over the years, but it results in an exquisite car to drive in the wet. It has heaps of braking power with no locking up, we don’t have ABS, it has crazy amounts of traction in all three parts of a corner and I don’t get much lift off oversteer which is unusual in a front wheel drive car. Feeling that comfortable in a car allows me to drive to my full potential. This isn’t some club racer car that has had £10k-£15k sunk into the engine, and believe me there are cars competing with engines like that. The incoming result was much down to the chassis setup and zero to do with engine spec, the engine we pulled from a fire damaged EP3 just a few weeks before did exactly what it should, survived the race.

With all the commotion of the start, I started to make my way through the pack but had no real idea as to where I was in terms of position. Back markers started to arrive in front of me fast so I knew our pace was ok and we were passing several cars each lap. After a few laps Ollie, one of our customers was nudged into the concrete wall on the pit straight at around 70mph which further reminded me to be super aware as I made my way passed what turned out to be 28 cars. On the penultimate lap I cam across the GMS Mini after catching it rapidly for a couple of laps which was the current leader. If I think I have time I like to eye up the car in front of me as to where I am faster and I really calculate overtakes to avoid risk wherever possible. I had a much better run out of quarry but with the distance Crofton had on me it would not usually be a pass, I think we were already well on the brakes but as we came towards esses I could sense I had the chance for the pass, eased of the brakes slightly for a clean pass before the first apex. I still wasn’t sure of my position but I could not see anyone else in front that was usually quicker than us. I had passed the other two in my class, Matt was doing battle with our other customer James in his Integra and I sneaked by whilst they were occupied and Goverd had stayed on semi slicks so we got by the epic AX GT very easily. At this point every time I passed the line, I was wishing for the flag to drop as every moment in these conditions was further risk of a big bill from a incident with what is a rental car.

A lap or two later the chequered flag waved and I let off full chat with huge relief, I love giving the marshals and spectators a wave, its thanks for staying out in brutal weather to watch us compete. Cool down lap is an odd sensation of calmness after 20 minutes of pure adrenaline. Stopped by a scrutineer as I returned to the paddock and ushered into parc ferme, I was greeted by cheers from the students and handshakes as I was told we did first overall!! I’m not sure that sunk in all day to be honest, How did we manage to get a budget build rental car from 29th to 1st on a very competitive grid in the pouring rain after starting 52 seconds from the leader in a 20 minute race. We smashed the fastest lap with a 1:22.398, nearly 4 seconds faster than any other car out there. I usually feel awkward to allow myself to be proud of things I do, but that day was a day I could be proud of my driving ability and the teams ability to give me a brilliant car to drive.

The students are taught to spanner check cars at least twice between each session, it gives them a chance to clean stuff up, look at all components up close and personal at which point issues can be spotted and hopefully rectified. On this occasion between Race1 and Race 2, it was found one of the front Porsche callipers was seeping fluid, if not spotted this could have meant no brakes for me at some point during the 2nd race, when you are hitting north of 100mph heading towards corners with little run off, that’s not something you ever want to experience. The crew did their best to rectify the issue but alas we were not able to make it out for race 2 of the meeting. Having been in motorsport for a fair few years, disappointments like this don’t phase me to the surprise of the students and tutors. With the pride of a last to first to go home with we packed up and left.

Mid-June are our next races at Castle Combe, With a 3rd and 1st overall in the first two meeting I am very excited to continue a brilliant racing relationship with Wiltshire College Motorsport and all our Sponsors. Come and see us race if you have not yet done so, it’s quite a spectacle. As much as I would love to share the in car of my Race 1 the misted-up windscreen meant it was not useable sadly.

Thanks to our Sponsors:

Slip&Grip Automotive | Tech&Tyres | Motorsport Electronics | Mustweld Motorsport | OneDay Motorsport | WCUC | Carwood Brise | Fuchs Lubricants | Samco Sport | 985 Developments | Earls Performance | RHD Performance

Images by Jake Ozzy Photgraphy, Conner Minnis, Johnathan Fletcher & RKG Photography

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